As the first country to reverse a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing - more commonly known as 'fracking' - South Africa is now poised to move forward with the controversial process, exploring what experts believe to be the eighth largest shale gas reserve in the world. For a country that is almost wholly dependent on coal production, shale gas development could be a game-changer. Yet, the possible environmental impacts could also be devastating.
Despite the government's current plans for exploration, many environmental groups still hold on to the hope that a fracking-free status quo may continue. We explore this possibility in our Base Case scenario, which offers the most promise for preserving the water and natural resources of the Karoo, but the least potential for the country's economy. Our alternative Shale Boom scenario allows for shale gas development and could significantly boost economic growth, reduce poverty and provide more resources for spending on education, health and infrastructure. Yet, with these gains come steep costs. Widespread fracking could lead to significant water contamination, destruction of natural habitats, increases in earthquakes and no long-term reduction in carbon emissions.
Is there a way to harness the positive power of fracking, reduce its negative impact and move towards a greener future? Our Blue Bridge scenario levies a small tax on fracking that is then invested in renewable energy infrastructure and production. In this scenario, strong economic growth drives reductions in poverty and increased spending on education, health and infrastructure. It also moves South Africa to a renewable energy-based economy, lowering shale production relative to the Shale Boom, reducing carbon emissions, producing more overall energy and damaging fewer natural resources in the long term.